Lois Battuello Letters on Walt Ranch
Bill Hocker | Apr 1, 2016
April 20, 2016
Napa County Planning Commission
1195 Third Street
Napa, CA 94558
Re: Walt Ranch and today’s presentation packages
Dear Members of the Commission:
Thank you for always recognizing the Public Comment provision of our Government Code, which permitted me to explain why I believe the Walt Ranch project should be subject to a Use Permit Application and why it is vital to this County, vis a vis SAF-34.
On my point that this is a future home site development, not just a vineyard application, I provided two maps from the Walt Ranch EIR that if super-imposed would show vineyard plans for all but the Capell Watershed parcel at the top of the map. These are Figures 3.3 and 3.4 I noted.
In your packages are other things that point to commercial development intentions:
-- Kathryn Hall told “The Napa Valley Register” on April 4 that her family has worked on the vineyard plans for a decade. At other times, that they’ve spent millions of dollars of their own money to develop the plans (and go through the process).
In the package you have been given, the last page is a copy of the Deed of Trust recorded in Napa County on August 17, 2012 showing Hall Brambletree Associates, Ltd borrowed $5.7 million for unspecified development expenses for the Walt Ranch properties.
Do the Hall family members live in the Limited Liability Company known as Hall Brambletree, or in some of the Limited Partnerships entitled to draw funds from this loan, such as Search Financial Services, L.P., or Hall Phoenix/Underwood Ltd.? This structure suggests there are other than Hall family members as investors, and that borrowings are the source of funds, not personal funds from the Halls.
-- Craig Hall is a real estate syndicator and syndicators make money by acquiring, developing, and reselling land for a profit for their investors
-- In the package just submitted are two pages from Sonoma County Planning Department records, one dated October 22, 2008. This memo notes Hall Financial Group was the applicant for Hall T - T Ranch Subdivision in Alexander Valley (known now at the Hall Ranch “community plantation development). Here, established vineyards were subdivided with vines in most cases more than 20 years old, the existing vineyards carved up into 10 forty- acre parcels, a neighborhood governed by a Homeowners Association in an agricultural district.
In other words, Craig Hall and Mike Reynolds of Walt Ranch have already developed other vineyard home sites in Alexander Valley.
-- In their Walt Ranch letter dated November 21, 2014, Hall and Reynolds asserted their rights to build 35 homes.
As noted in my March 28, 2016 letter to you, allowing Hall to get away with his scheme will cause the balances of Napa County's agricultural properties to fall to development never intended by Measure J, nor permitted by our General Plan. People will have to answer to charges of Public Corruption should it happen (meaning a repeat pattern of violating land use laws by any public official) for allowing the Walt Ranch scheme to advance.
The second document of interest is an internal memo showing Mike Reynolds, developer of the proposed Walt Ranch, as project manager for this commercial development. While Mike Reynolds now serves as President of Walt Wines, he functions as a developer for Craig and Kathryn Hall … a developer of home sites in rural areas, creating new residential enclaves that are not permitted in Napa, and a developer of their St. Helena Winery.
I believe David Morrison has done an excellent job of giving people a voice, but in a matter that is so limited, that which is before him, a Vineyard Application with the Erosion Control Plan and the EIR, that the other issues presented would be by-passed by the Board of Supervisors.
I believe the foregoing provides enough information to justify requiring a Use Permit application to also put this project on track for SAF-34 review.
Any effort you can lend to this cause would be appreciated by those who have not been given a voice otherwise allowed by the normal process for development schemes.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Lois Ann Battuello
1634 Main Street
St. Helena, CA 94574
Copy to: David Morrison, Director of Planning
To: "David Morrison"
Sent: Saturday, April 2, 2016 9:16:01 AM
Subject: Walt Ranch and Public Safety Questions - Use Permit or Vineyard Development Application?
Please see my letter below directed to the Planning Commission March 28. I have not yet requested to be placed on the agenda regarding Walt Ranch, however I have seen enough red flags related to the Walt Ranch project to suggest the appropriate application should be for a Use Permit, not a simple vineyard development, and I hope to address the Planning Commission to place this matter on their agenda, unless that is something you can accomplish?
Please see the last paragraph of page 2 below for a recap of what I do for our Country and our County. And see the top two paragraphs of Page 3. Then please go back to page 1 for a list of projects that included community developments in Napa County after the passage of Measure J -- all rejected or failed. I think you will see that Walt Ranch has the potential of creating a precedent that will bring great harm to our rural areas, stomp out our protective Titles, while I sense from a March 16 feature in "The Napa Valley Register" the developer would not hesitate to bring a lawsuit to attempt to set aside our Agricultural Preserve. Whoa, that's Texas bravado I've heard before.
Importantly, failure by Walt Ranch to apply for a Use Permit put this project outside of normal review by law enforcement, which is described in Napa County's General Plan Safety Element, SAF-34, which reads:
"Policy SAF-34: All new commercial and multi-family development shall be referred to the Sheriff’s
Department for review of public safety issues. If the proposed project is adjacent to or
within an incorporated city/town, consultation with their law enforcement agency shall
also be required"
Frankly, I don't know where to begin the discussion, but it isn't just a "conspiracy theory" approach that I am taking, my concerns are based on the fact that Mike Reynolds has asserted there is a right for each of the 35 parcels to have a home, Hall Financial Group (umbrella over Hall Brambletree L.P. and Hall Brambletree LLC) is an investment bank in Dallas, TX that syndicates real estate investments, including investments for foreign nationals, about whom we know nothing. Hall's first purchase of property in Napa County, 1995, also coincides with the Texas-based Richland Interests L.P.'s Soscol Ridge project. When that project was rejected, other Texans with big plans retreated.
I have also had personal experiences with local counsel for Hall and Reynolds where the truth had been distorted and angles used to circumvent county codes, particularly in matters related to Rich Frank and Koerner Rombauer, whose spectacular warehouse fire also destroyed Kathryn Hall's 1997 and 1998 wine releases ... an illegal warehouse project on its face, and a bit of a bootlegging operation until the fire changed their ways and the Frank-Rombauer venture vaporized.
As a resident of this County, I don't want any new precedent set that could cause harm. I was present when the Board of Supervisors literally put the developer in the Lake Luciana project (Pope Valley) under oath because he had lied so much. As it turns out, foreign (Arab) money was involved in that scheme as well as the other majors proposed for Napa County in the past. Simply put, we have no way of controlling what could be a runaway project without the benefit of a Use Permit application that allows ongoing review. If the vineyard plan is approved, there is no way to prevent provision of utilities to the various parcels of Walt Ranch and their sale of parcels, clearly a commercial activity resulting in formation of a new community.
I spent nearly two years with the General Plan Update Committee shepherding SAF-34 through for "Team Napa," a group that cannot identify itself in public, but who are in a position to review projects to assure we are safe ... but only when properly applied for.
I apologize for not having a copy of the Hall's Alexander Valley (Sonoma County) Hall Ranch project's CC&Rs scanned for attachment to the letter, however I will mail the letter below with attachment this week.
Thank you for your time, attention, and guidance.
Lois Ann Battuello
Letter to Planning Commission
March 28, 2016
Napa County Planning Commission (by hand delivery)
Re: Walt Ranch Vineyard Development Application #P11-00205 ECPA Project
I urge you to reject Walt Ranch’s Application to develop vineyards, regardless of findings of the Environmental Impact Report and Erosion Control reports.
The vineyards are appropriately zoned AW (Ag-Watershed) and AWOS (Ag-Watershed-Open Space), and while appropriately zoned for vineyard development as a source of fruit for syndicated Hall Wines, the vineyards are an ancillary use to a “planned community development” for which Walt Ranch is not zoned. Any development in the county for the purpose of building multiple single family homes can only be on properties zoned RS (Residential Single District) per Title 18.52 of Napa County Municipal Code. In the case of Hall Ranch, the vineyards become ancillary uses, providing views to prospective and future homeowners, as well as fruit for Hall Wines. Even sold without spec homes on the parcels, this is a planned community development with hardened roads to each parcel that would have easements recorded for access to each, and commonly-shared roads and entrance … a gated community with vineyard “views, views, views of rolling vineyards,” likely with commonly shared farm management.
The Community of Walt Ranch would be governed, as is their Hall Ranch development in Alexander Valley, by Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions that would be recorded immediately upon any approval of this vineyard plan, just as they were recorded in Sonoma County for Hall Ranch in Alexander Valley (Geyserville), evidenced by the attached cover sheet for the CC&R filing. Like Hall Ranch, Walt Ranch will advertise the estimated monthly HOA dues (Homeowner’s Association Dues), as soon as the project is developed for what Sotheby‘s terms a “community plantation development.” We do not permit new urban communities on land designated AG, AW, OS, or any combination of special zones, save RS noted above.
The County has no financial incentives to approve this project. “Bloomberg News” just reported that the French are on a buying spree in Napa County, and dozens of established winery properties are turning over, increasing our tax base considerably. Remember when the French rejected Robert Mondavi’s vineyard plans there because they didn’t want a forest harvested, despite their passion for vines and wines?
Four of the Alexander Valley Hall Ranch’s ten parcels have sold, two to individuals and two to investment companies which intend to flip the properties a second time, likely after developing homes on the sites. There is a more limited market for “build your own” than thoughtfully developed homes ready for occupancy that the investment companies could provide.
In the past, the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors have rejected similar developments in Napa County since Measure J was passed in 1990:
Soscol Ridge (Richland Interests of Houston, TX). Location: Napa
A referendum by the developer was rejected by 84% of the county’s voters
Juliana Vineyards (Bill Harlan‘s Pacific Development Corp‘s project for Reunion Industries in 1996 on former Buttes Gas & Oil properties of Houston, TX). Location: Pope Valley
Lake Luciana LLC (developers Criswell & Radovan for Four Seasons Resorts/Hotels on property owned by Triad Communities/Fred Grimm and Dallas Police & Fire’s TBD Realty of TX) which was tied in common ownership of the developer to historic Aetna Springs in 2009. Location: Pope Valley
Eco Village fell apart when Lake Luciana was rejected; the project shared common ownership
(Triad Communities) with the rejected Lake Luciana, and collapsed financially. Location: Angwin
Carneros Inn was on land zoned commercial and was a mobile home and RV conversion; Calistoga Ranch replaced an existing RV park.
Walt Ranch’s Application is disengenuous, a way to incrementally develop the property … vines first, homes later under different building permits. Developer Craig Hall is a real estate syndication expert. By his admissions to “Dallas Morning News” (March 24, 2014), his Hall Financial Group has more than 500 investors and is moving to 600, who, among other assets, own Hall Wines. Both Hall Ranch and Walt Ranch appear to be syndications.
We have never approved any project in this county for a real estate syndication, the purpose of which is to purchase, develop, and resell property for a profit for shareholders by Hall’s admission at http://www. hallfinancial.com. That’s a non-permitted commercial activity on its face.
In our County, vineyards have never been intended as “spec developments” to make profits for real estate flippers/investors, rather core enterprises of family and partner- owned farms producing fruit for wineries, or core assets owned by wineries to meet production needs without home developments. You will never find Beckstoffer, Mondavi, Beringer, Charles Krug, or any of our large vineyard owners building a home on every parcel they own, and then flipping the parcels, or flipping parcels for home development by investment companies incident to the vineyards. You won’t find hardened roads throughout their vineyard parcels, only around the perimeters of the collective parcels or paved county roads to access them. Other roads through vineyard blocks are cultivated each year and re-established by farm activities, never hardened for all season use.
Hall Wines (one of the businesses owned by Hall Financial Group for which Craig Hall serves as an investor and CEO per “Dallas Morning News’s” D Magazine), has a use permit issued by the County for 1.26 million gallons (roughly 500,000 cases) of wine, and intends to expand current production to that limit and beyond, through projects similar to Walt Ranch. If you approve this, he’s likely to buy the former Juliana Vineyards/Lake Luciana project area’s vineyards and parcels, currently owned by Dallas Police & Fire’s Pension Fund, as is Aetna Springs, or purchase the failed Soscol Ridge site, or create something similar from any existing ranch he can find with multiple parcels that he’ll flip, while contracting fruit for ever-expanding Hall Wines. Craig Hall will do this over and over to satisfy the thirst of his real estate investment syndicate, and then will head to Planning, Building and Environmental Services Department with an application to modify his Hall Wines Use Permit to meet the demand of his 8,500 and growing wine club membership, and his 600 investor/owners who receive both cash dividends and cases of wine.
Craig Hall is a “moneyman” who has had two big crashes in 1986 and 2008-2010, likely busting out some investors. He lives on OPM (other people’s money), as well as his own. The film “Wall Street” has a great line: “They (moneymen) never die, they just grow back in different forms.” As noted in the foregoing “Dallas Morning News,” “Tapped out at the time (after the 2008 debacle), Craig came up with an investment plan to finish the (Hall Wines’ winery) project that’s similar to a private placement of preferred stock.
You may think of Craig Hall as the comeback kid, but I’ve not been able to find a proper registration for his business activity of real estate syndication filed with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission incident to his issuance of preferred stock. With some 600 investors, he is supposed to develop a prospectus and file as a broker with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission to approach 25 people or more by any form of solicitation -- mailers, newspapers, pep rallies (aka “dog and pony shows“), robocalls, or “big tent“ events.
Because there is no disclosure of his investors, who come from around the world, I have no way of knowing whether or not his investors include Saudi financiers of terrorism who were involved in other projects noted earlier, as well as Carneors Inn and Montalcino Resort at one time. I am one of our Country’s experts in tracing terrorist financiers’ funds globally, and getting documents to our Governor (having served two of them), the White House (having served three Presidents), the U.S. Senate (recruited me in 1994), and the Southern District of NY (FBI and JTTF) who head the 9/11 criminal investigation.
Terrorist financiers were also involved in the City of Napa with “Starwood Westin Verasa Napa” and “St. Regis” at Stanly Ranch where the ownership has been changed. In the City of Calistoga, they were involved in the Diamond Hills and Silver Rose projects, but this has also been changed. It is only through
Discovery in a lawsuit brought by the County that we can depose Craig Hall and issue Subpoena Deuces Tecums to learn the identity of his investors to know whether or not we are safe. To date, I have kept us safe, as has President Bush with the rejection of the Montalcino Resort project that had avoided review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (aka CFIUS, U.S. Treasury and FBI, among others).
I found out years after the rejection of Soscol Ridge that one of the financiers of terrorism was behind that project, so you made the right decision then, as did voters who have had enough of new vineyard developments at the sacrifice of our forests.
With Craig Hall’s Hall Financial Group located in Dallas, TX, and the Dallas Police & Fire Pension located in Dallas, I wouldn’t be surprised if Craig Hall is looking to purchase, through syndication, the Lake Luciana and Aetna Springs assets to help his local firemen. He would once again be Dallas’s hero. Approval of this project would set a PRECEDENT for the foregoing scenario of community plantation developments, while Dallas Police & Fire have other alternatives and are moving against parties responsible for the failed projects (attorneys and cpa‘s). Nonetheless, Hall could help bail out the pension funds loaded with $8 billion in debts and only $3 billion in assets, with resurrection of the Pope Valley projects.
If you approve this vineyard development Application, Walt Ranch will flip the new vineyard properties. Walt Ranch’s total investment before vineyard development is $10 million. The syndicate would recover the cost of the 2005 purchase likely from the sale of only 3 parcels after vineyards are developed, at prices close to $5 million per parcel in Napa County. The balance of parcel sales would be gravy, flowing to Craig and Kathryn Hall and their preferred shareholders, additionally providing seed capital to do this over and again in Napa County.
Keep in mind that moneymen have to keep buying, selling, buying again, selling again to satisfy commitments to preferred shareholders.
I grew up on a family farm in the county, picking prunes, grapes, walnuts, suckering, tying vines, budding, and assisting during harvests in many ways. I love vineyards, but not at the sacrifice of 28,000 trees on this cattle ranch, and the dangerous precedent. I would think a cattle ranch is something a Texan would take pride in owning.
Keep those trees, help the county meet its state-mandated goals to reduce our carbon footprint by leaving those trees alone! I have no idea how many tons of carbon dioxide are processed by them, but any loss has negative consequences.
I urge you to reject this precedent- setting Walt Ranch vineyard development application.
Thank you for your time and thoughtful consideration.
Lois Ann Battuello
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